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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Casting off the year past

Area Jews observe holiday of Rosh Hashana, a time of reflection and introspection.

As the sun settled at dusk Thursday on the backs of turtles bobbing in a koi pond at Brand Park, a heartfelt, sustained whimper echoed throughout the area.

Meant to imitate the sound of a human’s cry, the noise came from a shofar — or ram’s horn — blown by Rabbi Simcha Backman, who led a Rosh Hashana service at the park.

The traditional blowing of the shofar takes place during a moment of introspection in the service, when congregants summon their sins, grab hold of them and throw them away at the start of the Jewish new year.

“The most human emotion is a cry, so we blast the horn to bring out human emotion and remind humans that we are but human,” Backman said. “You look inside and reflect.”

But Rosh Hashana is not just a time for Jews to reflect; it also provides an opportunity to commit to jettison bad habits and improve, he said.

The Thursday service, which drew about 30 people, was held at the Whispering Pine Tea House and Friendship Garden in Brand Park. It was an ideal setting for a Rosh Hashana service not only for its serenity, but for the koi pond — a perfect place for congregants to toss their sins, or as the symbolic tradition goes, bits of bread.

After the formal service and a collective reading of the Tashlich, also known as the 13 attributes of mercy, congregants passed around bags of sandwich bread, removing small pieces to throw to the fish.

“The fish, they wait for this every year,” said Mort Laski, a member of Chabad Jewish Center of Glendale.

As part of the two-day Jewish New Year tradition, Jews are supposed to find a body of water and cast their sins into it, Backman said.

If someone doesn’t find the water during Rosh Hashana, they have 10 days before Yom Kippur to find a pond, stream, an ocean — just about any body of water will do, he said.

Beyond the sunset service in the park, Jews also attended services in synagogues in Glendale and Burbank.

About 200 members of Temple Beth Emet congregated at St. Jude’s Episcopal Church in Burbank for a morning service marked with hand-clapping, singing and chanting in unison.

The congregation has suffered the loss of several of its members this year, so the new year and the hope that comes with it was especially poignant, Rabbi Mark Sobel said.

“Love involves all the emotions, and we have a loving relationship with God,” Sobel said. “With that in mind, it’s natural to laugh with, yell at or talk to Him, but in love, that relationship grows and strengthens.”

For Eagle Rock resident Hope Friedman, Rosh Hashana is an opportunity to tackle self-improvement.

“It’s about being a better person,” she said.

Other congregants, like Brett Bigley, cherish the holiday as a chance to spend time with family.

Bigley drove to the Temple Beth Emet service to see members of his extended family who were at his bar mitzvah and marriage, he said.

“They’re such a welcoming congregation,” he said.

Back at the koi pond in Brand Park, the day was about sharing for Jordan Marx, 5.

“I have an idea,” he said as he prepared a handful of bread for the fish.

“If I smush it up, they will have more.”

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